Something smells fishy...
July 7, 2006 11:32 AM   Subscribe

Fish Oil Filter: I know fish oil is supposed to be good for you, but exactly *how* good for you is it?

Upon doing a rudimentary google search, I came across a ton of quite diverse many of these have been tested and how many are mere conjecture? For example, is it true that fish oil is better than ritalin for ADD (doubtful)? Is fish oil more effective than prozac as an antidepressant (also doubtful)? Or is fish oil actually just a modern version of snake oil?

Essentially, what are the benefits of fish oil and where's the evidence to back it up?
posted by johnsmith415 to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
posted by matteo at 11:35 AM on July 7, 2006

"Is fish oil more effective than prozac as an antidepressant (also doubtful)?"

Well, many many things work about as well as prozac for treating depression, since the studies showing efficacy for prozac don't show all that much efficacy beyond placebo effect. However, there's a big problem with a lot of the evidence in the link presented by matteo, which is pretty impressive. The problem is not that the results are lies, but that Omega3's could just be standing in for taking care of yourself. A lot of the issues that Omega3's are good for are general lifestyle issues, and large epidemiological studies which measure their intake in real life may well simply be measuring people who take care of themselves in general (dental hygeine and mental health are also pretty well correlated); similarly, people enrolled in studies to address lifestyle issues are taking better care of themselves than some of those who aren't, or than they were before.
posted by OmieWise at 11:47 AM on July 7, 2006

I did it consistently for six months, it seemed to make very little difference. In case you don't know, PubMed is a good place to find stuff like this, or you can use Google Scholar. You'll find some studies saying it works and some saying it doesn't. FWIW I'm pretty sure that it's not just snake oil, but it definitely needs to be better understood than it is at the moment.

If you haven't already, have a look at the Durham Trial.
posted by teleskiving at 11:58 AM on July 7, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for the tips, teleskiving (and everyone else so far)! Yeah, I do know about those resources...I'm just trying to distill the information out there, since there seems to be so much of it.

Just as a side note, I'd also be interested to hear about people's personal experiences with fish oil...did it work for you?
posted by johnsmith415 at 12:07 PM on July 7, 2006

I took two fish oil capsules per day this winter and had the best luck with my eczema that I've had since I've been old enough to walk. I didn't do anything else differently.

This is obviously proves nothing, but I intend to take a fish oil supplement next year as well to see how I do.
posted by Mayor Curley at 12:45 PM on July 7, 2006

The Berkley Wellness Letter has a good summary of the positive and negative effects of fish oil (although it's dated 2003). Except for some special cases, they recommend fish, not fish oil.
posted by teg at 12:49 PM on July 7, 2006

How good for you is it? Hmmm.... checking the book.... seventeen!

No, just kidding. Check out "Neurobehavioral aspects of omega-3 fatty acids: possible mechanisms and therapeutic value in major depression." They're so sure it helps with depression that they're looking for the neurochemical pathways to explain why. It's got a bunch of other benefits I can't remember -- my mind-body nutrition friend swears by the stuff.
posted by salvia at 12:50 PM on July 7, 2006

Missed this on preview--

Except for some special cases, they recommend fish

The Heart Association has charts to help people choose fish safely. But for potential mothers and children, I still wouldn't go overboard with fish eating -- "EPA's limit of 1 microgram of mercury per gram of hair was exceeded in 21 percent (126 out of 597) of women of childbearing age tested.... "In the samples we analyzed, the greatest single factor influencing mercury exposure was the frequency of fish consumption," said Dr. Richard Maas... "As seen from Table 1 even those who consume a low to moderate amount of fish have nearly a 10 % probability of exceeding the EPA Advisory Level, while nearly 50 % of heavy fish consumers exceeded this level." (Quotes from press release, PDF report.)
posted by salvia at 1:11 PM on July 7, 2006

I took Omega-3 fatty acid pills from Trader Joe's for over year to naturally get my cholesterol down. Didn't budge. For me fish oil = snake oil.

Also, odorless garlic isn't odorless (but that's another post).
posted by GarageWine at 1:43 PM on July 7, 2006

I used to be a vegetarian with pains in my joints (esp. my right hip, and my knees).

I now eat fish 5 or more times a week (usually mackerel or salmon). No twinges whatsoever. I also am impressed with the omega3 is good for the brain studies.
posted by dash_slot- at 4:42 PM on July 7, 2006

I've been taking Fish Oil as well as Serrapeptase and Nattokinase twice a day for about three weeks for RSI in my wrist, shoulder and elbow. Normally I'm very skeptical of these types of too good to be true "miracle vitamins", but I've been in a lot of pain for several months and was desperate. After two weeks, I was ready to send the stuff back for a refund, but due to sheer laziness (couldn't find my receipt), I kept taking them. After three days, I noticed that my pain in my wrist was about 70% gone. By the end of the thrid week, I was about 90% pain free.

Another interesting "side effect" is that I have tons of energy and lost ten pounds without really trying, but this could be due to the fact that I've eliminated high fructose corn syrup, white flour, and partially hydrogenated foodstuff from my diet. I don't know if this is all a placebo effect or if the supplements are actually working, but to tell you the truth, I don't really care! I'm going to continue taking them as long as they work.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 6:41 PM on July 7, 2006

There is significant evidence in the literature that both Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids may inhibit the spread of breast cancer. There is also growing evidence in the literature that Omega-6 fatty acids may have a statistically significant effect in improving immune response after surgical trauma.

Most fish oil tablets contain one or both of these fatty acids, and many physicians will recommend that their chemotherapy patients take fish oil tablets as part of an immune-boosting "cocktail". I am not in any way stating that there is definitive evidence for either usage, nor will the literature support such a statement. However, it appears, based on the currently available evidence, that fish oil tablets may be beneficial for certain tightly constrained patient groups.

As an aside, OmieWise is absolutely correct in his statement about fluoxetine (Prozac). As with all of the SSRI medications, we lack a strong understanding of fluoxetine's mechanism, and there have been experimental trials where the effects of fluoxetine have been statistically indistinguisable from those of no treatment at all. Fluoxetine is most certainly not a placebo: for starters, it changes brain chemistry more significantly than a placebo. But, for some patients, it may be (as OmieWise said) less effective against depression than lifestyle changes.

As a further aside, I am frankly astonished at the number of people who are willing to put unregulated substances into their body on the basis of little or no actual scientific evidence. On the basis of evidence, it is statistically just as likely that those substances are harming you as it is that they are helping you.
posted by scrump at 8:47 PM on July 7, 2006

For those of you saying "I took omega 3 for three months this winter and felt nothing" - thats not surprising. It takes a long time for the o3 to build up in your fat cells, which is how it has its effect - if you do notice any effect, it will be over many months if not years.

To be honest, the effects are so long term I don't even bother trying to detect them. Lifestyle changes and diet changes accout for so much that trying to control for supplementing with o3 is impossible. I would say read the science, especially the reviews, and decide for yourself if you think its worth it.

If so, find a decent supplement, stick it in your fridge, take at least 6 caps a day, and forget about it. Just make it part of your routine. I've done the reading and am convinced of the health benefits for all sorts of things, so I just try to remember everyday and worry more about fast food and excercise rather then how much the fish oil is helping (or not doing anything).
posted by rsanheim at 11:47 PM on July 8, 2006

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